Originally created 04/29/01

Prom fashions bring back memories for former high schoolers



To Cher Best, the dress was perfect: pink, strapless, backless, tea-length.

To her mom, the other dress was perfect: white, full-skirted, Southern-belle style.

But Ms. Best wasn't going to give in when it came to her prom.

"I was like, `I am not wearing that. It's too ... it's too ... it's just not right!' " she said, remembering her mother's choice. "She told me, `If you want that other one, you're going to have to pay for it yourself.'

"I proceeded to go out and get a job and start packing ice and maintaining the salad bar at Shoney's. I wanted that dress. It was fitted at the waist and then flared out. It was so pretty."

Ms. Best, now a radio personality on WPRW, 107-FM, bought the pink dress herself, and her mother agreed to pay for accessories, which included, in true 1980s style, patterned hosiery.

Prom season is here, and most area high schools will hold their events the first two weekends of May.

That perfect prom dress is a memory that many women hold dear. The delight and affection for the finery still rings in the voices of those who talk about their choices.

"The `Favorite,"' said Tammy Stout, director of the Greater Augusta Sports Council, "was made of white snowflake lace, and it was off-the-shoulder with a hot pink cummerbund. It was kind of flowing."

Her date wore a "fashionable" white tuxedo, also with a pink cummerbund, she added.

"I pulled out my scrapbook," said Leigh McCormack, who was on the teen fashion board at J.B. White when she bought her dresses there in high school.

"The first couple of years - 1978 and 1979 - a lot of girls liked the disco-style dresses. Kind of slinky, but not form-fitting, not the way the dresses are today. They'd have the ruffle at the top, and a flounce at the bottom."

Mrs. McCormack's was light blue with a ribbon-tie across the shoulders. Her date wore a navy blue tuxedo with wide lapels and a ruffled shirt, she said with a laugh.

"All the dresses were long - we wouldn't have even thought about wearing a short dress to the prom," she said.

She attended the prom for four years, but she made a break from tradition her junior year, in 1980: She rented a black tux with tails that matched her date's. She used rubber bands at the ankles to blouse the pant legs and accessorized with strappy shoes.

Mrs. McCormack searched for her "dream dress" her senior year. She cut a picture out of Seventeen magazine and searched the newly opened Augusta Mall until she hit pay dirt.

When Augusta realty agent Gwen Fulcher-Young attended the Academy of Richmond County in the 1960s, the decision wasn't as hard to make, she said.

"Back then, everybody wore the strapless dresses with the huge skirts. They had the tiny waists and fitted bodice."

She misses the elegance of those prom days, she said.

"I'm absolutely horrified when I see how skimpy these clothes are today and how prom night has become such a sexually oriented evening," she said. "I think, especially in the South, what ever happened to elegance?"

In a year when the two-piece prom dress, with halter top and belly-baring skirt, has become popular, what was considered "daring" years ago seems almost quaint today.

"In high school, it was one thing to bare the shoulders or the back," Ms. Stout said. "But I don't think the dads would have been happy with baring the midriff."

Prom progression

Popular wisdom says you can gauge the stock market by hemlines, but you can tell a lot about a society by its prom dresses, too.

Over the past half-century, prom fashions have mirrored pop culture - in ways that reveal not only fashion trends but also body consciousness, social attitudes and the latest in youth culture. A prom dress is more than a dress. It's a sequined time capsule lined with satin and tulle.

IN THE 1950s AND '60s, when the idea of the sock hop and the ball merged to form the stress-inducing high point of high school, it was a little easier to pick a dress. The traditional silhouette of tight bodice and full skirt gave the 1950s teen a chance to be a princess.

Then the 1960s arrived. Before the decade ended, hemlines for girls had gone up and down; bras had come off; everyday clothes had become looser and less restrictive. The new look and attitude gradually worked its way into prom wear.

View photos of prom attire from the 1970s to today.

Reach: Alisa DeMao at (706) 823-3223.